Broadcast Exchange: Making the Super Bowl stand out through design and augmented reality

The “Broadcast Exchange” from NewscastStudio features conversations and panel discussions with individuals leading broadcasters’ design, production and technical operations. 

JP LoMonaco, vice president of on-air graphics & design at CBS Sports, joins NewscastStudio’s Dak Dillon for the inaugural episode.

Fresh off Super Bowl LV in Tampa, they discuss the motion graphics that debuted with the game, the unique augmented reality opening sequence and dive into the CBS Sports rebranding.

Plus, LoMonaco reviews the network’s busy slate of spring headline events including the Masters and NCAA Tournament.

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Transcript

The below transcript appears in an unedited format.

Dak:

We’re talking today about the Super Bowl and the overall new direction that CBS Sports is heading with it’s on-air look. So, talk a little bit about what all’s going on at CBS Sports.

JP:

Lot is happening at CBS Sports. As you know we just did the Super Bowl last Sunday, and that was the culmination of a year’s worth of work, just thought and planning and a little bit of juggling along the way. So, in a normal Super Bowl year, from the day the previous Super Bowl ends, everybody huddles together and the planning begins. And it’s fairly normal. It’s usually there’s either a major upgrade to our graphics at that point, or sometimes a redesign. In 2016 we did a massive overhaul, rebrand, of the division. And then at 53 which is three years later, we just did an upgrade. We massage the look. For 55, we assumed we’d be doing our own bigger redesign. And then along the way Mike Benson and CBS network informed us that they were going to do this overall rebrand of the entirety of CBS, which A was amazing because no one’s ever really done that before. CBS has always had autonomous islands of design across its divisions. So, the idea of the scope of project was awesome to me. But then also started to drive our thinking for the Super Bowl.

So, our focus for the redesign, or the rebrand, at the Super Bowl was now heavily influenced by the bigger rebrand. We were sort of a rebrand within a rebrand at that point. And it was great. We had parallel conversations with CBS network and what we were doing with the division while internally crafting our own personality within that design. And then obviously trying to elevate everything because it’s the Super Bowl, because 100 million people will be watching and you’ve got to put on your best outfit that day. So, that’s what we did. And then I think the way it came out and the way all these random ingredients coming together, and us molding them into a singular look, was really successful. And I think that was evidenced on there this past Sunday.

Dak:

So, deconstructing it and going back for that 10,000-foot view, talk a little bit about the overall process that CBS Sports is doing to integrate the new CBS brand mandate into the overall look, beyond just obviously there are the new logos that have hit CBS Sports, CBS Sports Network, CBS Sports HQ. How are we going to keep seeing that filtering down? And then talk a little bit about the insert graphics and what all’s next.

JP:

Yeah. Really, really good question because CBS Sports, that rebrand that I touched on in 2016, was a really pointed rebrand. It was very strongly formatted. And we lived by that format rather religiously for five years, something that we sort of mandated throughout the division, throughout the company. And we stayed true to it. So, by the time this rebrand was introduced us we felt like we were… A brand takes a long time to build, right? So, we felt we were hitting a really good stride and we were strong in all aspects. And then this, “Hey guys, by the way, we’re going to throw all that out. And we’re going to do something new,” was tough to swallow at first. And it was a little bit of a bitter pill.

And then when we saw that A, we were welcomed and involved in the process as a group, that was really great. And then when we saw the sensibilities and the path that Mike and his team wanted to go down, it wasn’t a far reach from where we were. We had a pretty structured, simple, elegant, sophisticated approach to our graphics. And they were embracing those same sensibilities, albeit a little bit different for us. But we were already there in the mindset at least. So, that was a big plus for us. Obviously we see the logo system across everybody, and for us it was basically removing a box. I mean, other than that it’s pretty much a very similar styled logo system, very similar font. To that point, the unification of a font across all divisions was… I mean, it seems such a small thing but it’s massive.

JP:

You just recognize instantly, right? There’s instant recognition of oh, that’s a CBS thing now. So, knowing that we can move along that same path with them. And we knew a lot of the answers that were in front of us because we’d already been through. It was really good. And then the design style that they introduced, that was a little bit tougher for us. We had gone from a very circular motif in our look prior to 2016, to throwing that out. And we went full in-ear, boxes, rectangles, 3D extruded shapes. And the design style now is what we call elemental, meaning it’s the elements of the eye drive the design. Which we all know the eye is a big circle. So for us, it was just a little bit of a oh here we go, we’re just taking a huge step back and going back to where we came from.

But all the kudos to my team and the people we worked with on this. I grouped a small huddle together at the beginning of this and said, “Hey listen, we really don’t want to go back to circles. I mean, I get it. We have to at some point, but I want you guys to take a look at the eye and find out how to not make it into big circles all over again.” So, they all looked at me I was nuts. And then they went away and thought about it for a little while. And I think what we came back with was a nice balance. I mean we can’t obviously avoid the circles, but I think we took an interesting perspective on how we portray them on the screen. So, that’s a little bit of a deconstruction of what the method was.

Dak:

So for The Masters, which is coming up this spring and the NCAA tournament, how much of what we saw at the Super Bowl will translate into those insert graphics? Obviously minus the sand and the beach inspiration.

JP:

Right. That’s a super interesting question and it’s a little bit of insight into CBS Sports as a whole, and who we are on a yearly basis as we go through our season. So, those two properties you just mentioned, the tournament and then The Masters, they’re outside of the umbrella of the brand look. They’re very significant properties, one being that with March Madness and the tournament we are partnered up with Turner. And it’s a joint venture from that perspective, so that it’s not just a CBS property. So, there is a unique look that is solely the tournament’s. However, there was a brand new launch of a graphics look that we worked on for the previous year leading up to just ahead of the COVID pandemic that never saw the light of day last year. We never got to pull the trigger on that.

So, we got a new launch this year. And so, while it won’t be what we’d called the NCAA training facility, the concrete walls and dark hallways. We brightened it up a ton and it’s a super fan-centric, really fun. We tried to capture the energy of the tournament and I think you’ll see that when that package launches this year. And then we go to The Masters and The Masters is unto itself. It is its own entity. It doesn’t belong with our PGA Tour golf events. It doesn’t even belong in with the PGA Championship. It is a standalone. So, that again will not change. It will be the same package that we launched two years ago when Tiger won.

So those two things we’ll be as they are, or their own thing. And then actually to the point I think you’re trying to make here, we are going to be in our current package, which was the pre Super Bowl package design wise, until we get to our first big event in August. So, we’re taking the off season for us, the quote-unquote off season which is post-Masters, and everybody’s nose to the grindstone. We’re going to gather together and change over the entirety of our look which includes all studio shows, all events, all regular season packages whether they’re remote or in studio. So, there’s a lot of work ahead of us but the Super Bowl was definitely a great peek at where we’re going to land.

Dak:

And then it seems CBS Sports HQ has already updated a lot of their look, at least to give them some tastes of maybe the new direction as well.

JP:

Yeah. Yeah. We work… So, Komal Bhukhanwala is our art director. And she and I work very closely with the HQ guys. And we were, luckily, to be a good part of that conversation and they were happy to follow our lead and take our advice on things. So, we hustled with them and got this launch with them the week prior to Super Bowl. So, I think there’s still more to come with that, a little bit of a work in progress. It’s a fluid situation over there. But yeah, they got to a really strong foothold of where they’re going to be just like we did with Super Bowl.

Dak:

Yeah. I mean, I just got off another conversation and the phrase of the year right now is rapid iteration. I think all broadcasters whether it’s their looks, whether it’s technology stacks, everyone is unafraid to try new things and to rapidly change them if it’s not working. We’ve seen that at the national newscast, we’ve seen that on the cable networks. It’s just everyone is a lot more willing to do that than maybe they were 10 years ago.

JP:

Yeah. I think that speaks to technology, right? I mean, we have the ability. And again I think when we speak as a graphics department we don’t want people to think that way, because we can do it doesn’t mean we should do it. But yeah, I think the technology allows you to pivot and definitely upgrade and change some things in a quick way. But however, I don’t recommend that. What we hope is that we’re in front of things and then we’re being thoughtful and putting a strong design together with reason and meaning. And it’s not just eye candy on the screen. There’s definitely some logic underneath.

Dak:

Usually in the graphics world when you have to rapidly iterate it’s because a few too many fans are saying something on social media.

JP:

100%. 100%.

Dak:

Like we saw with Monday Night Football.

JP:

I wasn’t going to say it out loud myself, but yeah. I was amazed. I was honestly amazed watching that night and just seeing the flurry. I mean, it was nuts. And then to see the change on-air at the second half was… I was like, this is a bad precedent in my mind.

Dak:

I talked with someone at ESPN a couple of weeks ago as well. And they were talking about how when they designed the new college football look, that they had to focus group the score bug, and they had to go through the extra levels just to make sure that that same thing didn’t happen again. And then with you all in the Super Bowl and the score bug, it still captured some of the old but it was still very fluid, very clean, very readable compared to some of the other ones out there that are very… a little showy compared to maybe their intended audience.

JP:

So, a handful of things. I mean, us knowing going in, right? That is it. We can design the greatest opens and the nicest AR, but if the score bug fly, which we affectionately call the [I-Bar 00:13:49] in CBS. But yeah, if that doesn’t fly then all our heads are on a plate. So, there’s a lot of thought that goes into that. And a lot of pressure testing. And I try not to look at any social media, but the few things that people shared with me I was happy to see that people appreciated the change. There were a couple of really great things that went into that, one being that we didn’t stray too far from the design, as you mentioned. I mean, we have something that works. We have a configuration that is solid and make sense. So, we didn’t want to leave that. What we did do is we’ve removed a little extra framing, right?

Dak:

Yeah.

JP:

We took the borders off, we took the dividers out. We just further simplified. And just a little bit of less is more when it came to the I-Bar. The other thing that was a benefit to us, and to go two steps back to the global rebrand Of CBS, TT norms, the font that we’ve adopted as a group, is just an amazing typeface for that usage.

Dak:

From the foundry True Type.

JP:

Yep. Exactly.

Dak:

Put them in there.

JP:

And then, although we kept the I-Bar exactly the same size, and I thought there were some interesting reactions that people thought we made it much bigger. It is literally the exact same footprint as the previous one with a little less busy-ness. So, I think it appears bigger. But also that font. That font can read at probably at three quarters of its size and still feel present on the screen. So, there’s some flexibility there, I think, that we can think about. But yeah, I thought the I-Bar was incredibly successful and looked really, really sharp on the screen.

Dak:

Yeah. I mean, and not to bounce around but to talk about that flexibility in the scaling, for the PGA Tour you introduced the new on-screen ticker or score box, their always present. And obviously, that is at a very small size compared to say the I-Bar on football. But it’s still very legible.

JP:

You see, to me there’s a balance to that. Especially with what we did, we called that the constant leaderboard, that now lives above the bug. And it’s interesting. If you’re a golf fan, I’m a huge golf fan. I was a golf fan before I worked in sports. But if you’re a golf fan, knowing that information, although it seems like oh well, you’ll get that when you go to break or whatever, and they show our leaderboard, knowing that when you’re watching is super relevant to what you’re seeing and what you’re rooting for, rooting against, or whatever depending on who your guy is. But the balance of that constant leaderboard is that it is a very light and very unobtrusive design. But it’s time on the screen gives it weight.

So, it’s like you don’t need to design something big because you’re going to have all day to absorb it. And then you’ll find that eventually because of the way it’s designed, you take it or leave it. It doesn’t intrude on you watching the event. So again, another huge success is launching golf this yea was almost a pre Super Bowl to the Super Bowl. But yeah, we’re super happy with what the results of that launch in San Diego did for us.

Dak:

And pivoting back to the Super Bowl, you all incorporated a lot of AR this year. Obviously the Super Bowl is when any broadcaster brings out some new techniques, some new toys. They glam it up because it is the world stage. Talk a little bit about your unique AR opening sequence you had with the motion capture and what all that entailed.

JP:

So what we try and do is, and I think the NFL does this as well, is wherever the city is, whatever the flavor of that Super Bowl is based on its location, the NFL develops a style guide. And this year we really loved the their motto or their mantra for the Super Bowl, which was sea, sand and siege. And that was the approach. It was a very colorful, very dramatic approach to sort of that Buccaneer pirate motif that Tampa Bay gives off. So, right away brainstorming, we did an AR open at 53. So, we wanted to keep the momentum, keep working in that space. We started dreaming up the particles. Right away the particles all come into your head and you’re like, how am I going to use these? What am I going to do?

And so, we worked with a company called Silver Spoon that I think you’re familiar with. They did the virtual fans for baseball. We had worked with them previously on some projects for motion capture, great team. So, we brought Silver spoon in to be our partners with the AR using a Pixotope system. And then also partnering up with Ncam and SMT to do the tracking. But lots of work there, tons of discussion. Obviously, it’s an incredibly technical venture to go down that path. And for something that’s 10 seconds or 15 seconds on the screen, there’s about 30 people behind the scenes all choreographed and making that happen. The undertaking of that, it paid off and it was maybe the most exciting part of the day for us. And it’s also our first leap, no pun intended, right out of the beginning of the game.

But yeah, our sandman and our Canons fired off the pirate ship in Tampa stadium. All that was really, really fun. And what a great way to introduce a little bit of high-end technology. The unreal engine driving those graphics was the only way that we could have accomplished that. Nothing else has that kind of power in a real-time type environment view. Just so we’re all clear, because sometimes it’s hard to tell because everybody’s so good at their job: the sky cam operator, the tracking, everything’s so good you’re not really sure if it’s live. But that was 100% roll Skycam and let’s go. And that graphic was executed live on the air, as were all the other ones that you saw throughout the day. But yeah, it’s very exciting to do.

Dak:

Now, you brought up earlier the point that CBS has been in a privileged position to have two Super Bowls so close together due to some scheduling maneuvers on NBC and CBS’s part. Did that add any pressure, did that change things since you all were just the Super Bowl host broadcaster a few years back, and now you have to iterate very, very quickly?

JP:

Yeah. Yeah. It was interesting because of those shifts and changes. For those who haven’t done a Super Bowl, when you are done with that one year labor of love of getting that on the air, you’re happy there’s a three-year break before you’re doing it. So, when we did this in two years, which is effectively one year off, and then a year of working again on that next Super Bowl. It was definitely a scramble. It’s not a lot of downtime, not a lot of time. For us, it’s constant moving parts. We operate on a weekly basis throughout the year putting on huge events. So, there’s a little bit of a scramble but we were excited. It’s always great to have that massive event on your air. Then COVID got introduced and then we had question marks all over the place. We didn’t know what that Super Bowl would look like. We knew it wasn’t going to be traditional or normal in any sense of the word, so that just slowed plans down because there was a lot of we’re not sure, we’re waiting and seeing. We don’t know what we’re waiting and seeing about, but we’re waiting and seeing in the early part of the year to get a feel for what we’d be working with.

And then once we were a go we assembled a really great team. And that’s one thing I just want to talk about real quick is just we, as an internal department, took a very different approach to how we got this done. The people involved were from all different walks of life. Normally you go, you hire a big third-party company. They take the reins on that and you work with them and collaborate. But it’s basically a singular outlet for what you’re doing.

And again, I mentioned Komal earlier and then my internal team of Drew Simon, Tara Kafer, Peter Rizzo, Mark DeFrancesco for our insert design. We each pow-wowed, and we found some smaller groups that we like. We hired a freelance artist named Marcos Vaz who’s got a history in this industry of just a reputation of doing the greatest work. And I’ve been a fan since forever. So, we reached out to see if he had any availability and earlier he was the one that said, “Hey, here’s this eyeball. Can you turn it into a straight lines? And he took that challenge. He came back with some style frames that really drove the entirety of this package, real home run, just really beautiful work. And I wasn’t surprised even a little bit with what he came back with he’s so talented.

And then we worked with Marcos throughout the package and a company named Two Fresh out in LA. And so, they were one group. And then we had Northern lights In The City, another design house working on some other pieces. And then Academy of Lower Thirds helping us out with some of the inserts. So, it was a real potpourri of people working on lanes in sections of the Super Bowl. And that was driven, what I really was proud of, was driven by my internal team. So, for maybe the first time ever was really an internal job with outside help versus an outside job where we just put some things in. The collaboration at that level was amazing. And the process, for as tight as the calendar schedule was, to me, I felt never felt uncomfortable. It was just, the ideas were all coming quick. There’s a lot to make. But people buckled down and got it done. And it was a job of passion for a lot of them. And it showed, I think.

Dak:

So, in terms of what to look for for the year ahead, what would you say would be the biggest trends we should be watching for on CBS Sports?

JP:

For the year ahead we’ll look to August and our first new telecast of this package. And again, I think the Super Bowl was a microcosm of the bigger package, but there’s still so many things to figure out that we will be doing in the off season. Things we may add things, we have to explore. There are elements of this design that worked great for football, but we still have to explore what does it mean for basketball? And then just another huge calendar moment for us this year is we’re going to launch SRX auto racing in July, which we need to start on. But it’s got to be heavily informed by what we did last weekend. It’s a part of the family now, and I’m excited to work on it. I just think the opportunities with auto racing and in graphics, I think the sky’s the limit on that. We can have fun all day with new technology, AR, and graphics, and just data-driven graphics and things that. So, there’s a lot of stories to tell there.

Dak:

Yeah. I mean, what Tony Stewart and his team are doing with bringing data into the sport. I used to actually work in NASCAR as a photographer, and know a lot of these guys. And what they’ve been able to do in such a short timeframe, and then to add the data layer on top of it, it’s going to hopefully make for a different type of telecast than just the standard cars around a track, here’s a little ticker type presentation.

JP:

Yeah. And I’m no auto racing guy, but I’ve had a lot of conversations with our producer for that, Pam Miller. And she obviously lives and breaths auto racing. And just the few conversations I had, I’m super excited to be involved in this. But you’re right. What they’ve done, the shortened timeframes, the immediacy of the races as opposed to something that you really have to commit to, the fact that prime time and there’s Saturdays and summer, there’s just so many good points about this that it’s exciting. They’re building their own cars. So, it’s going to be interesting. There’s a lot of cool things I think, around the corner for that. So yeah, can’t wait to jump in on that.

Dak:

Well, on that note thanks for taking some time to chat with us today. And we’ll look forward to seeing more of the new CBS Sports graphics as they roll out.

JP:

I appreciate it Dak. Thank you. Thank you for reaching out and talking to me about this, just really proud of what the team’s done.